The bizarre circumstances surrounding the discovery of a body in the bathroom in the home of a failed financial guru has raised allegations of money laundering, tax avoidance and missing millions going into the coffers of a major drug syndicate.
It was just after 9pm on March 14, 2012, when police pounded vigorously on the front door of Anthony and Veronica Ghalloub’s house in Winbourne Street, West Ryde.
Police had been alerted to a potential hostage situation after one of Mrs Ghalloub’s sisters peered through the blinds and saw what she thought was a silhouette of a man brandishing a gun.
The scene at Winbourne Street, West Ryde after a fatal shooting at the Ghalloubs’ home. Photo: Ben Rushton
The moment police opened the door, Mrs Ghalloub and her two children burst out. Although Mrs Ghalloub was screaming hysterically and had collapsed on the ground crying, she managed to gasp between sobs: “Everything is fine. There is nothing wrong.” Mr Ghalloub was quick to tell police he was alone in the house and all was OK. But his shaking hands indicated otherwise.
Edging past him, the police made their way through the house. They were shocked to find a man’s body in the bathroom. “Blood was still gurgling out of his mouth”, one policeman later told the coroner. A sawn-off rifle lay by his side. Although he had been shot in the head, no-one – not the Ghalloubs, not the police, not the anxious family milling around on the lawn — had heard the fatal shot.
When police informed him they had found a “deceased person in his bathroom”, Mr Ghalloub replied, “Who shot him?” At the time 42-year-old Anthony Ghalloub was being pursued by a posse of furious Lebanese investors, most of whom hailed from the two small villages of Hadchit and Blouza.
Police at the Ghalloubs’ house in Winbourne Street, West Ryde in March 2012. Photo: Nick Moir
As police from Strike Force Strathearn were later to discover, an astonishing $120 million had moved in and out of Mr Ghalloub’s accounts since 2007.
While the off-the-books “investment” scheme was working – offering staggering returns on investments ranging 30 to 55 per cent per annum – no one cared too much about how Mr Ghalloub was working his money miracles.
But now the carousel of cash had ground to a halt and some of the small and secretive group of investors were facing financial ruin.
On the surface, most of his investors were far wealthier than him. Some drove Lamborghinis, Mercedes, Maseratis and Ferraris, while Mr Ghalloub drove a blue Holden twin cab ute.
He had no financial qualifications, no staff and no records. His company, AJG & Associates, which he founded in 1994, didn’t have any associates and was based at his mum’s modest Carlingford house. His mother, Nola, later told a coronial inquiry she had no idea what the company did, nor that she was a director, nor that it was supposedly run from her home.
Shortly before midnight on December 15, 2012, Mr Ghalloub’s parents’ Mercedes Benz was firebombed outside their home.
A lengthy investigation by Fairfax Media has discovered where some of the money went and, critically, that Mr Ghalloub’s business had two key investors.
One was Sam Fayad, the millionaire boss of Dyldam, one of the country’s largest private property development companies, and main sponsor of the NRL team the Parramatta Eels.
Mr Fayad is understood to have ploughed more than $10 million into Mr Ghalloub’s scheme. Mr Fayad would not confirm this amount and he said that he invested only his own money and that his only connection to Mr Ghalloub was through his good friend and occasional business partner, fellow property developer Ray Raad. Mr Raad told friends he was expecting to reap $80 million from his dealings with Mr Ghalloub.
One investor, who is owed $50 million, said that he was persuaded to invest by Mr Raad.
Mr Raad told the investor, “This guy is not taking anyone on. Let’s see what we can do for you.” He assured the investor the scheme had been running for 17 years and had “never missed a beat”. The investor initially put in $500,000 and each month Mr Raad would drive around in his Mercedes convertible to drop off the investor’s monthly interest payments in cash.
“He’d literally drive around with a boot full of loot,” said the investor of the boot full of named envelopes, which were crammed with cash. “I tell you, with no word of a lie, these guys were counting so much cash, they had to get a money counter, like the ones the banks have.
“It got to the stage where, on a monthly basis, I could have picked up $200,000 or $300,000 in cash. So I would say, give me 50 grand and re-invest the rest.” This investor invested more than $5 million.
Another investor reported seeing a table in the Ghalloub family home piled high with bundles of cash.
By the time of the dramatic events in the Ghalloub house in 2012, the money had long gone but there were dozens of desperate and angry people demanding to know where their money was.
In February this year Deputy State Coroner Paul MacMahon found that Jean Vincent Didier Govinden, 33, died on March 14, 2012, from a single self-inflicted gunshot to the head in the bathroom of Mr Ghalloub’s West Ryde home.
Govinden was marrying a second cousin of Mr Ghalloub’s and they’d been invited to his wedding. He had come to the Ghalloubs’ house not only armed but well-prepared. He had a backpack with duct tape, spare ammunition and two knives. The Ghalloubs later told police that Govinden had demanded money, saying “I am not the only person who’s going to come after you…there’s lots more coming.” Although he hadn’t invested any money with Mr Ghalloub, the coroner found that Govinden had substantial debts and a gambling problem.
The coroner said that it was probable that Govinden held up the Ghalloub family at the “behest of a third party”. He also noted that Govinden had told the terrified family, “If I don’t get out of here with money, I’m as good as dead.” The coroner said “it can never be known” why Govinden chose to take his own life or the identities of those who might have sent him.
One investor, who didn’t meet Mr Ghalloub until the end of 2008, when Mr Ghalloub’s scheme was collapsing, was horrified by the encounter.
“There is no way in hell this guy is nearly intelligent enough to invest a dollar, let alone a million. He can’t put two words together. I think he is computer illiterate. I don’t know if he knows how to read let alone write,” he said.
On the night of Govinden’s death, Mr Ghalloub explained his business model to police. “I did short-term lending. We help people in, like who needs loans and um, we charge an interest rate for them to get the loan.” It was all by word of mouth, said Mr Ghalloub. “I didn’t need no licensing or anything because it was just a family, like, it was loans from family members”.
He told police the money was invested in property developments, “building houses and units”.
Mr Ghalloub’s friend Mr Raad admitted that he brought people into the scheme, but only because he wanted them to share the good fortune. He thinks that Mr Ghalloub – like him – is a victim. “I feel like a failure. I am so, so tired of the whole situation. I am a victim like everybody else.” Mr Raad insisted he had no idea who the mastermind was or where the money had gone.
One clue might lie with the single name on Mr Ghalloub’s bankruptcy documents. Despite having more than 100 angry investors, some of whom were baying for his blood, there was only one person who Mr Ghalloub claimed owed him money. On the fateful night of Govinden’s death, Mr Ghalloub told police that for years all had been going well. “All of a sudden, one of my clients gets into trouble with the law … that’s when it started to go sour.” The client in question was Mourad Saba, a man Mr Ghalloub says he has never met yet was happy to lend him a whopping $6,090,597.
But Mr Saba has known Mr Raad and Mr Fayad for most of his life. The 39-year-old concreter and landscaper had previously been employed by Dyldam.
In early August 2008, Mourad Saba’s business partner, Ibrahim Jidah, along with his cousin Eamad Saba were arrested over a major shipment of precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of methyl amphetamine, or “ice”. The sentencing judge later estimated that, once converted, the drugs would have had a street value of up to $112 million.
Over the previous 18 months, on six separate occasions, Mr Ghalloub deposited more than $6 million dollars into Mourad Saba’s account.
Mr Saba, in turn, gave the money to Eamad Saba. Mourad later told police that this money was to fund Eamad’s property developments.
The jailing of Eamad Saba and Mourad’s business partner Jidah not only brought down a major drug syndicate, it led to Mourad being grilled by police and later the collapse of Mr Ghalloub’s financial empire.
The Crime Commission
Mr Ghalloub’s accounts were frozen and he was hauled before the NSW Crime Commission to explain why millions of dollars from his accounts had gone into the coffers of a major drug syndicate. Although his business was usually done on a handshake, on this occasion Mr Ghalloub produced documents to prove he had lent the money.
When Veronica Ghalloub was interviewed by police in November 2013, she was asked, “Do you know anything about whether Tony supplied money directly or indirectly to fund that importation of prohibited drugs?” “He definitely wouldn’t have done that,” she said.
Mrs Ghalloub said she knew that her husband had to go to the NSW Crime Commission “because there was some talk of money laundering … um that somebody that Tony had given the money to launder and they were trying to put it back on Tony.” Asked if her husband had become involved with people who were committing criminal offences by money laundering, Mrs Ghalloub replied: “He doesn’t even park in a disabled spot.” When police grilled Mourad Saba about the Ghalloub loans, he explained that they had been facilitated by his friend Sam Fayad.
Mr Ghalloub told the NSW Crime Commission that Mr Fayad had asked him to organise the loans. He also told police that he had given the bank cheques to Mr Fayad to give Mr Saba.
This is a claim Mr Fayad denies. “My client has no direct knowledge and is unaware of any monies you refer to being provided from Anthony Ghalloub to Mr Mourad Saba or the trail of such monies particularly any money that was used to fund any criminal activity,” said Mr Fayad’s solicitor Ramy Qutami.
Asked if he had been interviewed by police in relation to the Ghalloub or Mourad Saba matter, through his lawyer, Mr Fayad said, “No comment”. Mr Fayad said he had personally lent money to Mr Saba for a project but this had nothing to do with Mr Ghalloub.
In early August 2008 the Australian Federal Police were listening as Eamad Saba and Lachlan Wilson, who ran an importing company, used code to discuss their anxiety about the delay on the docks of their two shipping containers from Thailand.
The Northern Victory had sailed in to Port Botany on August 4, supposedly containing a shipment of instant noodles and fruit juices.
Hidden inside the boxes were 2.6 million tablets containing 125kg of pure pseudoephedrine, the precursor for ice.
A week passed and still the drugs hadn’t cleared customs. The delay was due to the police substituting the pseudoephedrine-laden tablets with a benign substance.
On August 12, Mr Wilson, using code, rang Eamad Saba with the good news that the containers had finally cleared customs.
His father’s prostate tests were back and “they were all clear”, said Wilson.
Saba: What? On both, on both his nuts?
Wilson agrees saying, “Back to work tomorrow.” Saba is jubilant, “On both his nuts … he can start rooting again!” The police statement of facts, which was tendered during the criminal trial, indicates that there had been previous shipments. Half an hour before the containers were due to arrive at the warehouse in Arndell Park Eamad Saba called Ibrahim Jidah, who was Mourad Saba’s business partner, to check how many bags of “cement” they had used last time.
According to the phone intercepts, Jidah thought it was three.
“Are you sure, man? Three million?” asked Eamad Saba. Jidah said he would “confirm it with my mate, cause he was there with us.” Jidah then turns to “Mourad” who confirms the last job was three million. The Crown alleged that the reference to “three million” referred to the number of tablets in the shipment, which was 2.6 million.
At 8.30am on August 14, realising they had been spotted, the police raided the warehouse arresting Ibrahim Jidah and others.
At 9.38am Eamad Saba received a frantic call from his “cuz” alerting him that the game was up as police were swarming outside the warehouse where the drugs were being stored.
“There was f—ing about thirty to forty of them,” said the cousin.
“Has Ibrahim gone too?” said Eamad, about whether Ibrahim Jidah had been arrested.
The mobile number of the unknown “cuz” was listed in the police statement of facts. When Fairfax Media rang the number, Mourad Saba answered the phone. He declined to comment on his loans from Mr Ghalloub or the drug shipment.
Although Mr Ghalloub told his bankruptcy trustee that he had divorced his wife and given her a property settlement, Fairfax Media found the couple still living together in a rented property on Sydney’s northern beaches. They declined to comment for this story.
Who is Anthony Ghalloub?
For more than a decade, Anthony Ghalloub was the man who could make it rain money. In the years leading up to 2008, staggering amounts of money flooded in and out of his 19 personal bank accounts. Dentists, decorators, developers, builders, accountants, a wedding singer — largely from the Lebanese Maronite Christian community — invested in excess of $120 million into the account of a man who could barely read a balance sheet.
In Mr Ghalloub’s life some days were diamonds. In just one day at the end of February 2007, Mr Ghalloub woke up $266.75 overdrawn but then, just eight deposits later including $50,000 that landed from Vanuatu, he was $2.2 million in front. Bank records indicate that on June 13, 2008, Mr Ghalloub was desperate. He had only $223 in his account and he had rung the bank seven times inquiring about the balance. But then developer Ray Raad and his business partner Robert Mourad dropped $1 million into his account. Mr Raad followed it up with another $500,000. By days end half of the money had vanished.
On another day in September 2008, Ghalloub went from being almost $2 million in the red to being $2.5 million in front, including an internet transfer of $3.455 million from an unnamed source. For years it worked like clockwork with returns – in cash or cheque – of 5 per cent interest per month. It was all done on a handshake.
But when it collapsed in late 2008 some of Sydney’s wealthiest property developers were out of pocket. They included John Sahyoun, 78, who is rumoured to have invested $11 million, Sam Fayad, 55, from construction giant Dyldam ($10 million), and Ray Raad, 55 ($7 million). Although they had done nothing wrong and were desperate to know where their money had gone, neither Mr Fayad nor Mr Raad complained to the police. Mr Ghalloub had a cupboard full of explanations about his financial wizardry, including Chinese property plays, mezzanine finance and short-term lending.
He also attributed his success to a mysterious financial guru, Peter Holbrook, who he claimed to have met in the late 1980s while they both worked at Zurich Insurance, who has no record of Mr Holbrook’s employment.
Amazingly, even though he hasn’t seen Mr Holbrook since 1997, Ghalloub has told investigators they spoke once a week on a special Nokia phone that Mr Holbrook had supplied him. Mr Holbrook showed him how to make special deposits with the World Bank (they don’t take deposits) and how to access special high-yield investments at HSBC (they have never heard of Mr Ghalloub).
And as to Mr Holbrook’s current whereabouts, Mr Ghalloub said he moved to Seattle and then to Hong Kong. But efforts by law enforcement agencies both here and overseas failed to find the mysterious Mr Holbrook.
At a coronial inquest Mr Ghalloub helpfully provided a detailed physical description of Mr Holbrook. The description bore a remarkable resemblance to counsel assisting the coroner, Gerard Craddock SC, who gleefully threw his arms in the air and declared himself to be the shadowy investment whiz. “It’s me!” he asserted.
Police from Strike Force Strathearn share the frustration of the investors, many of whom have lost their life savings. Millions of dollars were handed to Ghalloub with little documentation, making it is hard to establish fraud given that there were no proper terms for the transactions.
On the night a body was found in his bathroom, Ghalloub was quizzed by police about the collapse of his investment scheme.
“Do you have paperwork in regards to these transactions?” asked one officer.
“I did, yeah”, he replied. Asked what happened to the documents, Mr Ghalloub said, “I am not going to answer any more question or it might criminate (sic) me.” For a man in Mr Ghalloub’s position it pays to be careful.
Who is Sam Fayad?
Sam Fayad’s rags to riches story is remarkable. Having left the Lebanese village of Hadchit in 1977 as an 18-year old, he now co-owns Dyldam, the fourth-largest home building company in the country.
He is the director of 150 companies and lives in a mansion in Constitution Hill. For the hundreds who attended his son Fayad Fayad’s extravagant wedding, filmed by 14 cameras, there could be no doubt that Sam the man had made it. However, a Fairfax Media investigation has found that more than a dozen of Mr Fayad’s companies have gone bust, leaving the Tax Office out of pocket for more than $8 million. Mr Fayad has had a run of bad luck with some developments. The pattern is frequently the same. His company completes a development, having paid Dyldam handsomely for construction services, several units are transferred to family and friends of Mr Fayad, and shortly after the company goes down the gurgler owing the Tax Office money. Administrators are then brought in.
In each case, before the corporate undertakers are called in, Mr Fayad exits as a director and given “death watch” duties are a group of women. One of them is Sam’s wife Maria, who is the sister of Dyldam founder Joe Khattar, another is Maria and Joe’s sister, Sultaney Khattar.
On 25 February 2013, Sultaney Khattar was appointed the sole director and secretary of nine companies, which subsequently went into administration. She told Fairfax Media she knew nothing about the companies and suggested her sister Maria Fayad might be able to help.
Mrs Fayad was unable to help. She told Fairfax Media she knew little about the 53 companies of which she was a director or secretary. Although she is Dyldam’s office manager she said, “matters related to work, we don’t discuss that much”.
Mrs Fayad was appointed the sole director and secretary of Plaza West just before it went bust in late 2012 owing $28 million, including almost $5 million to the tax office. Her brother Joe and his wife Chahida were among the former directors, and her husband Sam had been the company secretary.
Plaza West had built an apartment complex and shopping centre, now called Entrada, in Parramatta.
The liquidators queried whether some properties had been sold at uncommercial rates. These include an apartment which was sold to Maria and Sam’s daughter and another one sold to a close relative of crime figure John Sassine, who is Mrs Fayad’s cousin. Mr Sassine lives in another apartment in the building.
In 2004 Mr Sassine and bikie boss Felix Lyle were convicted of manufacturing amphetamines. They both received suspended sentences.
Previously Mr Fayad and Mr Sassine had teamed up to build a townhouse development, “exuding with tropical feel”, in Henry Street, Guildford.
Other purchasers in the Entrada building are footballers Daniel Mortimer, a former Parramatta player, and Jamal Idris, whose manager Sam Ayoub is close to the Dyldam directors.
Dyldam is the major sponsor of the Parramatta Eels. Through his lawyer, Mr Fayad said he was “aware of players purchasing properties constructed by Dyldam but states that any sales were at all times at an arm’s length transaction and at market prices.” Chasing $250,000 in December 2011 the tax office got court orders to wind up another of Mr Fayad’s companies, National Highrize Investments.
Only months before it went belly up, National Highrize sold a Merrylands property to Mr Fayad’s son Remon, a Dyldam executive.
Mr Fayad declined to comment on whether the sale could be regarded as an uncommercial transaction between related parties.
A month before the tax office moved to have the company wound up, Mr Fayad was replaced as a director by Kerrie Anne Brown.
She was also appointed director of two other Fayad related companies which also fared badly.
Attempts by Fairfax Media to locate Ms Brown have proved futile. She is not at the address listed on the company documents, and neighbours have never seen her.
Maria Fayad said she had no idea who she was and her husband declined to elaborate as to who Ms Brown was and why she was appointed to a number of companies just prior to the administrator being appointed.
Meanwhile, Dyldam is surging ahead with an estimated half a billion dollars worth of units planned for construction.
Earlier this year Dyldam invited a raft of mayors and councillors to a lavish dinner to announce their partnership with Beijing Capital Land, a massive property development company co-owned by the Chinese government.